May 29, 1921 ~ August 3, 2007
Those who knew her will remember Andretta Adkins Alexander as an elegant and gracious woman whose delicate demeanor and charm masked a mathematics genius and a stalwart pioneer for both women and people of color. Andretta was born Andretta Grinnell Adkins on May 29, 1921. She lived until August 3, 2007.
The second child in a family of six children, Andretta grew up in a time of segregation and the Great Depression. Despite these challenges, her childhood in Alexandria, Virginia, thrived in a home where her mother, Mattie Hamlet Adkins, the biracial granddaughter of a William and Mary professor, was an artist turned teacher and her father, Andrew Warren Adkins, an American Indian from the Chickahominy Tribe in Charles City, Virginia, was both a teacher and the pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria.
Both parents emphasized education to all their children, and even gave Andretta the middle name, Grinnell, after the progressive Grinnell College (named for the abolitionist minister, Josiah Bushnell Grinnell). Andretta showed early promise in academics, attending the prestigious Dunbar High School, Virginia Union University in Richmond, and ultimately obtaining her masters degree in mathematics from Howard University.
Andretta married Frank Reeves Alexander in 1953 and had a daughter, Francine Andrea, in 1956. At a time years before the Women's Movement and during the long tumultuous years of the Civil Rights Movement, Andretta worked as a cryptanalyst for the National Security Agency, setting a groundbreaking example not only for her daughter, but for her workplace, her neighbors, and her country. Although her marriage to Frank Alexander ended in 1976, she continued a close and ongoing friendship with her ex-husband until his death from cancer in 1994.
Andretta carried on her parents' tradition of emphasizing education, sending her daughter to Harvard University in 1974. She was a woman who loved books, music, the arts, and museums, a love she shared with her daughter throughout her life. She was happiest when spending time with her family, especially her sisters, Teresa and Barbara, and her brothers Aldridge, Rutherford, and Robert. Andretta was generous to anyone who needed guidance or a loving hand, extending her home on three separate occasions to family members attending college in Washington. Her kindness was well-known to all members of her family.
Andretta lived in Washington, D.C. until 1976, when she moved to New York City. She traveled around the country later in life, also living in Nashville, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, where she spent her last years.
Andretta was deeply loved by her family and will be missed by all who knew her. She was given the name Sunbeam by her father, a reflection of the light she spread to others. She will be remembered lovingly by those she leaves behind as BB.
Along with her daughter, she is survived by her sisters, Teresa Adkins LeNoir and Barbara Adkins Ridley, and many loving nieces and nephews.
A memorial service will be held at White & Day Manhattan Beach on Saturday, August 18, 2007 at 1:00 P.M.
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